On March 12th and again on World Water Day 22nd
2004, Alice Project students went where no school had gone before.......
to Dinapur Sewage Treatment Plant. In a somewhat radical move we
went to those murky depths, to the taboo pollution of human waste,
as we grappled with one aspect of our water curriculum: our beloved
Mother Ganga, and the toilet status we bequeath to her these days.
Our flowing rivers are now burdened by the civilisations they have
watered and given life to. The Ganga, like other great rivers of
the world, is both an important water resource - sacred and practical
- and a waste receptacle for millions of people of India.
The World Health Report 2002, it is noted, “About 1.7 million
deaths a year worldwide are attributed to unsafe water, sanitation
and hygiene, mainly through infectious diarrhoea. Nine out
of ten of such deaths are in children, and virtually all of
the deaths are in developing countries.”
fecal contamination of water transmits microorganisms that
cause both diseases such as cholera, and equally dangerous
diseases such as hepatitis A. The cycle of transmission of
waterborne disease can be broken through proper collection,
treatment, and disposal of sewage.
sewage treatment process used in Varanasi does not effectively
eliminate bacterial pathogens. Untreated sewage routinely
flows through some 30 sewage nalas directly into the Ganges
River in Varanasi."
Steve Hamner from Department of Microbiology,
Montana State University, March 2004, Varanasi.
Shining - Ganga Declining',
declared our banner on World Water Day (pillorying the BJP
election slogan). We demonstrated against Mother Ganga's condition
along Varanasi Ghats, forming a human chain with other schools
and later, in that Gandhian tradition of direct action through
non-violence, we marched through the streets of Sarnath, and
sang protest songs in the park
The school outing was the culmination of our
water project - the forth and last module of an environmental
curriculum based around 'interconnectedness and footprints'.
The curriculum was devised by two volunteers, Rachel Kellett
and Bryan Tucker, working with the Science teacher, Pramod
Pandy and the English teacher, Alka, supported by Dr Jain,
Dr Mishra, Steve Hamner and a visiting sadhu.
In 1985 Rajiv Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, made an emotional
speech calling for Mother Ganga to be cleaned up.
It was at a time when India was becoming more industrialised and
urbanised. More people were moving away from their farms to cities
and working in big, new industries like steel, paper, cement, and
As Rajiv Gandhi said at the time, the biggest problem with the
Ganga river was human waste - sewage.
So the Indian Government launched its first environmental project,
called the Ganga Action Plan - GAP. The main aim of GAP was to catch
the wastewater before it went into the river and divert it to Sewage
Treatment Plants to be cleaned. In 25 cities, Sewage Treatment Plants
(STP's) where built. In Varanasi three STP's were built and the
biggest and most advanced was at Dinapur.
aspirations of the
Ganga Action Plan
to clean up Mother Ganga
"We have allowed the river to become polluted (ganda hone de rahi
hai), a river that is the symbol of our spirituality ....From now
on we shall put a stop to all this. We shall see the waters of the
Ganga become completely clean (bilkul saf) once again."
On March 12th 2004, Class 9, Alka, Dr Jain, Bryanji, and
Rachelji went where no school had gone before: to Ganga Pradushan
Swachh Karya Yogna, otherwise known as the Dinapur STP. In
the Tata Sumo journey there, someone said that usually school
outings meant visiting places like beautiful waterfalls....
We were going to where the waste of over a million people
The Dinapur plant is built on 100 acres of land that is well
planted with rose gardens and trees. We were met by Mr Ram
Bilas Ram, the Junior Engineer, who on two separate occasions
spent over an hour with us, showing us step by step how the
sewage was treated, and answering dozens of our questions.
It all starts with the Inlet Chamber. We climbed up a flight
of steps and - nervously - walked across a grate over fast
flowing 'water'. Water that was definitely NOT DRINKABLE!
"This is raw sewage!", declared Ram Bilas. "It comes from
Konia the central collection point in Raj Ghat where sewage
from all the other Ghats collects and gets pumped up to Dinapur."
From the Inlet Chamber, the water is filtered through a metal
grate, to prevent 'inorganic' rubbish from entering an 'organic'
process! We saw plastic chapels, hair shampoo sachets, plastic
bags. A workman has to be on 24 hour work to clean the filters
- or the sewage gets blocked and floods Dinapur - yes, it's
Through the grate, the water mixture settles in a round tank
called a Primary Purifier, before passing into a huge round
Sedimentation Tank, in which heavy particles settle down and
Suddenly, noses were covered with handkerchiefs.(Passive
Next the water is taken to the Trickling
Water Tank, where it is sprinkled over big stones (1/2 meter
deep), then smaller stones and then sand. Slowly it drips down
through the layers of stones and sand that filter out the large
particles and clean the water a bit more.
Next the water goes in the Aerator
Tank, where the water is whipped up (like a banana lassi), spun
around with mixers. This aerates the water - mixes it with oxygen,
which helps the bacteria that slowly clean the water to do their
work. Even though the water is cleaner of large particles, it
still looks rather black.
Next the water goes to a Treated Effluent Pump House. This
is a huge room with many large pumps that send the water through
The SLUDGE that remains is pumped into a tank called a Digester.
Here the sludge is broken down or digested slowly by bacteria
and chemicals called ENZYMES.
This process releases methane gas, which is stored under
pressure in 2 huge Methane Gas Holders, maybe 50 meters tall.
This gas is a bi-product and can be burned to turn the generators
to make electricity to run the motors and pumps in the plant.
In fact there is so much gas that some of it is burned up
in a chimney.
We visited the Generator Room and spoke with Fauzdaar, the
engineer who fixes and takes care of the big engines. "How
much energy is needed to turn all these pumps and motors?"
We asked Ram Bilas.
"This plant works for 24/7 - there is no lunch break for
the plant! We have 5 big generators, each one 575 kilowatts.
These provide energy for this local plant. Once they have
heated up to 60 degrees, then the methane gas can be used."
"Although we use relatively little electricity here, our
pump houses in the city use a lot of electricity to pump the
sewage uphill to us, and our bill is Rs12-15 lakhs per month."
... and then we saw the water snake.....
The sludge that comes out of the Digester is spread out over
a field in the plant where it dries out.
It is then sold as fertiliser to local farmers.
75% of treated wastewater is given to agriculture, and 25%
returned to the Ganga.
The water for agriculture serves the nearby villages, up
to 3km away.
"Is this water drinkable?"
asked Kiran Pal, from Class 9.
"NO!", replied Mr Ram Bilas. "This water is
fit for agriculture only."
We had quite a few unanswered questions after our trip. Here
are some of them:
Dinapur takes in 80 MLD of sewage from Varanasi, but the
total sewage volume for Varanasi today is about 250 MLD.
What happens to the rest? Does the Bhagwanpur STP work?
Does the DLW plant work?
Why have none of the workers at the plant been paid for
Why was one Trickling Water Tank broken? May be a problem
Why was the water at the end of the treatment process
so full of bubbles? Scientist Steve suggested that it indicates
a high amount of protein in the water - that means the water
still has a lot of organic matter in it.
What happens to the sewage when the electricity for the
Pumping Stations fails, as it does every monsoon, and during
Answer: It gets discharged directly into Mother Ganga...
to the Ganga Swach Anusandhan Prayoglshala
To understand how effective the sewage treatment plant at
Dinapur really was in cleaning the Mother Ganga of sewage,
we visited a well-known foundation that has been working to
clean up the Ganga since 1982 - 3 years before GAP even started.
The person in charge of the foundation is Professor Veer
Bhadra Mishra. He is a Mahant of the famous Sankat Mochan
Temple founded by the poet saint Tulsidasji. He is also a
Professor of Hydraulic Engineering and former Head of Civil
Engineering at Banaras Hindu University.He has been working
patiently for 23 years to clean up his beloved river, where
he bathes every day.
After the failure of GAP to clean up the river, the foundation
established the Swatcha Ganga Research Laboratory. The laboratory
checks how polluted the river is at different places along
the ghats and notes down its figures each day. The foundation
has also put forward some comprehensive plans for an alternative
(workable) Sewage Treatment Plant.
Dr RK Mishra, one of the chief scientists at the foundation,
told us that the Dinapur plant only filters the water and
does not really clean it! He told us that it does not kill
the bacteria in the sewage.
Dr Misra told us that in clean drinking water, there are
no more than 50 bacteria per ml, but with Ganga water it is
more like 50,000 per ml! That is 1,000 times what is good
The bacteria feasting on all this rich organic matter use
up the oxygen in the water, starving water plants and fish.
That is why sometimes we say: "This river is dead." What
we mean is that the river can no longer support life in it
the way it did before.
The point source
of raw sewage entering Mother Ganga near Asi Ghat, aka The
boat ride to a waterfall
With a colleague of Dr RK Mishra, Dr
Joshi, we went out on a boat ride from Assi Ghat onto Mother
Ganga. We all knew it was the BUOYANT FORCE that kept us afloat…but
the surface looked particularly TENSE! In fact, at times we
wondered what exactly we were floating on!
The water was very dark. Rowing close
to the shore, our strong boatman drew us 14 water students
against the current, south, away from the City of Light. The
sun was high so we covered our heads. Dr Jain and Bryanji
shared an umbrella. Nobody said very much. We rowed close
to a group of buffalo submerged in the water to keep cool,
and we watched a young boy clean his buffalo lovingly. He
looked up us, probably wondering what possible tourist attraction
could have brought us this far away from the ghats. We passed
people washing their bodies and their clothes by the water's
edge. Then we got caught in a sand bank, and our boatman,
no doubt unaware of the Tehri Dam's effect on Mother Ganga*,
appeared surprised that the water was so low. He struggled
a bit but finally pulled us back into the slow current, and
on south we went.
Then we saw it: a torrent of water
gushing down from the bank. Sparkling in the mid-day sun.
Definitely brownish in colour. We looked down. The water underneath
us was black. Something like oil oozed along its surface.
Here it was then, the Point Source from Assi, one of the 30
places where raw sewage entered Mother Ganga.
"Is this water septic?" asked Dr Jain
nervously. "Yes." said Dr Joshi definitely. "Nothing lives
here. It is one of 30 point sources along the Ganga, and it
is one of the cleanest because it is upstream, at the beginning
of Varanasi. You should see the Point Source at the Varuna
end. There the water bubbles with methane gas! There the Ganga
is definitely dead!"
"So we got to see our waterfall after
all!" someone said.
We decided not to drink a chai on the
Ghats - suddenly no one fancied getting too close to Ganga
* The water of the Ganga is being taken
to fill the Tehri Dam for the next 9 months.
ps You may
be interested to know that this background image is a photo
of the Dinapur output!
At 6am we arrived at Raj Ghat, to board our boat for our
2nd trip on Mother Ganga, this time to the point source at
the Varuna end of Varanasi.
It was the time in the morning when devotees are bathing
and offering puja to Mother Ganga, as they do every morning.
We raised our banner (made late that night by Bryanji with
Vinit points to the point source where the waste water from
Dinapur comes into the Ganga. The water below was stagnant
Back on dry land, we made our presence felt along the ghats,
taking over one of the pumping stations
Joining hands, forming a human chain, we joined other school
children along the ghats.
Resting up after a hard morning demonstrating, we enjoyed
butter biscuits provided by Bryanji. Some of us reclined.
Vinit inspected a bottle of Ganga water collected by one of
Class 5 and those with enough energy from Class 9,8 and 7,
together with the unstoppable Vinit and Bryan and Rachel,
took up the banners to walk the gentle streets of Sarnath
with our message
Shining - Ganga Declining
People living beside
rivers see and experience them in thousands of different ways,
at different times. Experts, planners and governments, on
the other hand, see rivers as 'commodities', as something
useful as a means to an end, an end which is not necessarily
for the common good: - as the carrier of our waste, as the
source of energy to drive our industry, as the dilluter of
our pollution, as the water for our crops.
control our rivers, they take our rivers away from the people
who live beside them and practice their traditional rights.
Government see it
as its duty to protect its land and people from what it sees
as the aberrant and uncivil behaviour of rivers.
into objects is a historical construction of urban Indian
middle classes exposed to western scientific thought and was,
to a great extent, forced upon some of the rivers by separating
the local communities from their river's water management
Where does she come from, our
as frozen ice in an ice cave called Gangotri glacier at Gomukh,
4,000 meters high in the Himalayas. Her first liquid water
flows from two streams and we have called them the Bhagirathi
and Alknanda. She flows 2,510 km down from the Himalyas, down
to the plains of India, before she finds the sea in the Bay
way she is joined by other rivers who over the years we have
given other names: Son, Ram Ganga, Yamuna, Ghaghara, Gomti,
Gandak and Kosi. Her waters therefore come from the melting
glaciers and are supplemented by monsoon rain.
draws from a basin of 1 million sq km (400,000 sq mi), and
is one of the world's most fertile and densely populated regions.
The Upper Ganga plain is the most irrigated area of the country
and much of the Ganga water irrigates 2.5 million acres of
a large amount of Ganga water is diverted into the Upper Ganga
Canal which feeds the agricultural fields between the Ganga
and the Yamuna rivers. At Kanpur the canal re-enters the Ganga.
The main crops of the Ganga plain include rice, sugarcane,
lentils, oil seeds, potatoes, and wheat. Along the banks of
the Ganges are swamps and lakes and in these areas crops such
as rice, legumes, chilies, mustard, sesame, sugarcane, and
jute are grown. Almost all of the Ganga plain has been cleared
of its former grasslands and forests to make way for crops.
The rivers of the Ganga plain have the most sediment in the
world. Now there is even more than in the past because of
the deforestation of the plains and Himalayan foothills.
the industries that use the Ganga are in Uttar Pradesh. Sugar
factories, leather tanneries, textile industries of cotton,
wood, jute and silk, food processing industries, heavy chemical
factories, and fertiliser and pesticide manufacturers. There
are 200 grossly polluting industries, which include 4 big
Thermal Power Plants along the Ganga. Scientists have found
heavy metals, such as cadmium, zinc, nickel, lead and copper
in abundance in the river sediment.
million people live beside the Ganga river.
All these people use the river water for drinking, washing,
ritual purification and for taking away their wastes.